The 'Civil Service Recognition Act': To Honor or Dishonor?

The bipartisan Civil Service Recognition Act breezed through both houses back in December with no dissenting votes. The law grants the American flag to the families of federal employees killed while in service to the government. I am a little shocked that this wasn’t already a right granted to those who serve their country in a special capacity other than military service. Some agencies did practice the ceremony, while others did not. The law will make it a standard right throughout all the agencies.


Over the past 19 years, 2, 965 federal employees have died while in service to the government. That comes out about 156 deaths a year and covers everyone from diplomats in foreign service, federal correction officers, to tragic accidents. Or otherwise stated, “as a result of a criminal act, terrorism, a natural disaster, or an extraordinary event as determined by the President.”

Critics argue that the law lessens the honor that has traditionally gone to those who have served their country militarily or died in combat. It’s easy to quip that someone who stamps passports for a living and suddenly dies from a heart attack is hardly deserving of the honor. Does a civil-service librarian who worked their entire career on a DoD facility deserve the honor? In my view, no but I don’t think that is what the law will cover. The original language that compared civil service to military service was omitted in the amended version.

“A flag shall be furnished and presented…in the same manner as a flag is furnished and presented on behalf of a deceased member of the Armed Services who dies while on active duty.”

Do agency heads have a leeway in deciding the factors, probably; but the law mentions “a result of a criminal act, terrorism, a natural disaster, or an extraordinary event,” so there is at least a standard.

Something to consider is at least 24 federal employees have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if that number falls far short of military deaths in those two countries, are we to settle around the thought that their lives and service is less honorable? What about Deputy U.S. Marshal Derek Hotsinpiller, who was killed while attempting to arrest a cocaine dealer in West Virginia? I say honor them all.

There may be flaws and there will be room for critics but I also see the need to honor those, however few they may be, a deserving act.

The debate over federal spending and federal employee benefits have gotten heated here and here, where many commenters supporting government pay and benefits were every bit as rabid and partisan as they accuse right-wing critics of being.

But right is right and to suggest otherwise is distasteful in my view.